by John Curnow
So if Valentines Day was all about the love, then the memo did not reach Huey. Yes, the God of Wind had no idea about it all and perhaps could even have been giving everyone mixed messages. There was no breeze to speak of early, then it arrived early afternoon and was quite possibly the fullest it had been all regatta. Please note that full does not mean strong or even fresh. No sooner had Huey supplied the closest racing of the entire Garmin Etchells NSW Championship than he took it away, to then give hope again once more, before finally closing the shop down for the night.
Matt Fisk, Chris Adams and Ryan Fisk of Surprise. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
It all really started in the morning, after the first good sprinkle from the skies. At 1030hrs the Answering Pennant over the numeral two was flown, indicating a two-hour delay in the starting time. That would mean no start before 1400hrs. Talking with PRO, Peter Walsh, in the morning he said, 'Thanks. It was great to get three races in yesterday and I’m very proud of the whole Race Management team, as it was hard work. To get them all done in the conditions that prevailed was tremendous and have a series in the bag as of right now, is a complete bonus. So with the pressure removed we’ll be cautious and considerate, but we’d still like to get all eight races in.'
'Today, the rain is likely to go around at around noon and then breeze should come in from the from North at 1400hrs, so we’ll go racing from there. If we’re lucky, it will be another two or even three races completed.' As it turned out, Peter’s timing was superb, and he did genuinely try for the nominated number of races, but it was not to be.
Grant Simmer, Doug McGain and Steve Jarvin during the Etchells forum. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
So what to do with a bunch of sailors, a dampish day and no real breeze? Well, you hold a quick QandA forum. This was moderated by Nev Whitty and had as its panellists, Grant Simmer, CEO of Team Oracle USA, fellow Australia II crewman and supreme yacht builder, Phil Smidmore, reigning NSW Etchells Champion, Doug McGain and Steve ‘Mothy’ Jarvin, who is part of the Magpie crew that are currently leading the regatta.
Questions ranged from technical issues and the Class Rule, to how to make your boat go faster in the super light weather and flat water. Class President, Jake Gunther and renowned sail maker, Michael Coxon also assisted with a lot of these answers and apart from the many laughs, there was a real transference of knowledge from those at the top to the rest of the fleet. The latter is a common occurrence in Etchells, whether it is in the boat park or a specific forum, such as this, but in any case it is one of the most wonderful things you will witness in your sailing and the technical know how can and indeed was, transferred right to the racetrack, as was evidenced in the first race of today.
The top mark was one busy place today. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
Coxon’s warmly received advice was essentially, 'In conditions such as this, you want to trim the sails on hard, because the water’s flat and you need to be able to hike against the rig. To do this you have to soften the rig. We were eight turns off on the shrouds, which allowed us to have the forestay tensioned by the mainsheet and the two sails worked in unison. The spreaders did not therefore make the centre of the main too deep. Prior to that, sheeting on would stall the sail and easing would feel better, but you’d lose height. Firm trim and flat leaches gives you horsepower, but you cannot stall it and this combination of changes has worked well to overcome these issues. Putting in a full head batten in the jib kept the head out and turning the top batten in the main around kept an even arc in the shape and these were the final components.'
So there everyone was, out on the racetrack at the new start time. As mentioned, a fuller, but not stronger breeze was evident from 035˚. However, any gaps that were there were filled with water today, but it was far from cold and could not really even make a cotton shirt damp, almost drying straight off you as it landed.
Pointless arrives with Sun Tzu and Turner’On. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
Racing would get underway around 1415hrs to 040˚ at some 1.1nm, which would take the competitors right up into Caroline Bay once again. Some ‘bullets’ would come down from more like 000˚, as the Committee Boat sheared around on its anchor. The start was exceptionally orderly, indeed you could say cautious, with everyone reticent to be anywhere nearer than 10 seconds off it, at best. One third of the fleet would go left and the rest chose the right, which did look more favourable, for now. It was a sort of drag race, with Iron Lotus, Yandoo XX, Umami and Ciao the standouts there.
At the top, the whole equation felt very right and with some crews opting to be way out there, the question would be whether they were too far and if it would offer enough to those on the left who had suffered early. The leaders would appear from the centre right and the fuller breeze, along with those earlier technical tips had done a lot to make this the closest first mark rounding of the entire regatta and what a buzz it was, as groups of two, three, six and ten all arrived at the same time. Most notable was that Magpie was mid-fleet, rather than their customary lead group role. How would that all play out for them in the grand scheme of things?
Umami leads a group in to the top mark. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
As the fleet had come up mostly on the right in the breeze line, they would interesting then go down the left, with some of the middle being right over on Point Frederick doing two for one on the rest as they took the elevator down past them. The leading six boats had a special courier deliver them their own packet of wind and it took them to a ‘see-you-later’ kind of position halfway down the track.
At the bottom gate for the first time it was Critical Balance from Racer X, The Boat, Ciao, Umami and Licence to Chill as a virtual wall, with Iron Lotus making a stealth appearance from the right. Ciao would take the rounding over Licence to Chill and The Boat. Not many would take the right option, about three in fact, but one would be Iron Lotus, which are former Etchells World Champions, Tom King, David Edwards, Ivan Wheen and Owen McMahon. The other thing you noticed about the bottom rounding was how many names were in 10th to 20th position and that 20th through 39th was a very tight group in its own right.
Plenty of action at the hitch mark. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
So if the first work was all about the right, then the second just had to be all about the left and it was at least couple of knots quieter as well, which is significant when you’re already in single digit breeze. It would flick around by a good 20 degrees and variance in pressure could be as much as four knots, which was a real bonus for those in the centre left channel, as it delivered them right to the top mark. Doug McGain, Gary Adshead and Michael O’Brien on Ciao would take us in to this last top mark rounding, with Iron Lotus making second and The Boat in third. Others to do well on the second work were Top 40 and series leader, Magpie. As they all went back down, it was good to see the tail of the fleet receiving their own package of wind for this last run to the finish.
It was virtually a line astern down over on the Point Frederick side of the course, but the run belonged to Iron Lotus and they would take the race. Umami would claim second and The Boat, with Jake Gunther, John Collingwood and Stuart Skeggs on board, came home on third place. After their win, Tom King was certainly pleased, 'I wish we could share that with someone else of to Newport (World Championship location for later in the year). Today’s better overall result came about from a much more assertive start and in Etchells, being up on the line and going quickly is the best way to make an impact. We’ve also got the Symbol of Death on board today.' However, King could not be drawn into revealing either what it is or what specific motivation it provides them.
The radial cut mainsail of Iron Lotus. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
Iron Lotus has been integral in the development process of North Sails’ new radial mainsails for Etchells. Indeed they are using a Mk VI version of this sail at this very regatta. It was terrific to be able to spend time with North Sails MD for Australia, Michael Coxon, after he stepped off No Star, which he has been helming. 'We have four of them here at the championships. Iron Lotus and Umami have the latest, where as we have a Mk IV that we won the recent Milson Goblets with. Development has been ongoing for about a year now, which came from actually creating a computer mould of where we were already with sail shapes and testing the radial designs that Keith Lorenz, Noel Drennan and now Vince Brun have collaborating on. Part of this is a lot of on-water testing to the same settings and then you have Tom King’s input, which is different to ours, and his World Champion and Gold Medal ideas are more than welcome.'
'The new Dacron is a direct result of North Sail’s Terry Kohler investing in technology to allow us to produce specialist warp orientated fabrics, which we’ve patented. This was a direct outcome of the Women’s match racing in the last Olympics.'
'We won the Goblets, then Matt Whitnall borrowed the mainsail last Saturday and beat us, so we built him one this week that he’s using now. It may seem fast paced, but it is all a methodical and considered approach. Having done all our homework and the testing with Tom King and his Iron Lotus crew, we now believe we have a product to market. It will be on offer with the existing three mains we make and the customer can choose from there', said Coxon.
'The radial configuration will make the sail lighter, but still inside the class rules and it will also be more durable, which is terrific for the customer. They’ll hold shape and we’re also making the sails smoother, cleaner and simpler, as the breaks can be wherever we want and yet still be to the letter of the law.'
Yesterday, this scribe commented that the North Sails job, which is the mid fleet prize at this regatta, was at that stage going to Roger Hickman and the Sun Tzu team. Naturally this was a typo, with jib the intended word. Today it is probably more like Animal House from Western Australia that will be the lucky recipient. Seeing the humour in it all, North Sails’ Richie Allanson said, 'The job will probably cost us less than the jib! When I first started, I was on $3.23 an hour.'
More tight racing today for the Etchells. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
Back to racing and the grey mist then descended once more and dampened some spirits no doubt. The AP coming out once more at around 1530hrs, probably did the rest. The breeze was around 350˚, but the water from the skies put a dampener on the wind pressure as well and so it was off to test out all the Garmin sonar gear aboard the sponsor’s vessel. You could see the fish as the mighty transducer pinged out its signal across the entire frequency range. The returning signals even located individual fish, but the pink jelly (lure) on the end of the line was not enough to entice any of the bream or flatheads the area is famous for.
Garmin’s National Sales Manager, Jason Browne said, 'May not really want to have the time to go fishing for a little while when you’re at an Etchells regatta, but it was good to have the lines over and keep working with our products. Lots of patience from the crews and Race Management certainly tried everything to keep them racing.'
Asked about the day’s catch, Jason said, 'No luck today, even though we could certainly see them all. Fishing is a like sailing – some days do work out better than others.'
License to Chill, Critical Balance, Seawings and Harold Holt during racing today. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
Getting underway again at 1640hrs on another two-lap course, this time to 025˚ was a welcome treat. There was a big hole in the centre of the line, with significant racking up at both ends of the line, especially up at the Committee Boat. It was a more dedicated start than previous ones, but two hoots and you knew that an Individual Recall was required for No Star and Animal House. Doing well was Iron Lotus cantering off to the right as they were the first to see a breeze line, and also partaking in a healthy trot were Top 40, Magpie and Umami.
Point Clare did not look pretty, so it was a right kind of work to the top, or so it seemed. Going in to the top mark Iris III may well have been the most windward boat, but it would be The Boat, or even Mark Bradford with Kyle Langford and Will McCarthy on Bootross that would be closer to the mark, with the latter having worked a flyer of a breeze line along the side of the fleet. Ultimately, the honours went to Top 40, with Peter ‘Billy’ Merrington, Geoff Bonouvrie and Ian McKillop certainly having a wow of a day out there. As they went to round, and with a hoot from the course boat, N over A was displayed at approximately 1700hrs. So instead of a result, it was now time to tow some of the fleet back to shore as the wind just evaporated.
Magpie during her fight back up the list. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship
The top ten boats at the end of the second day would be Magpie, Ciao, Umami, No Star, Racer X, Iris III, The Hole Way, Bootross, Top 40 and License to Chill. Graeme Taylor, Magpie’s skipper said, 'All good, but tough day again and we were pretty deep at times. We counted 10 places up the second work and five on the run that we clawed back. We just chipped away and got in some clear air. Three races tomorrow is a lot of golf, so to speak, and we want to put a good one in for the first race of the morning. We look forward to getting on with it and are enjoying ourselves, which is always a special feature.'
Sitting in 27th place are brothers, Ryan and Matt Fisk, with Chris Adams on, Surprise, from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Ryan drives, Matt’s on the bow and Chris does the mainsail. Ryan said, 'It has been pretty difficult out there and certainly shifty. One moment you feel like a genius, the next you’re out the back again, but it has been fun, too. What a great competition, irrespective of where you place.'
'We have had the boat about four years, after we could not ever get the helm off our father. We are always learning and have not sold it yet, so overall it is a great experience. Jan Muysken was the biggest influence in getting us into Etchells and we’re in, sailing boots and all. Getting information from the likes of Michael Coxon and seeing yourselves go up 10 places is a good thing. Sailing with the best is a pleasure and Etchells certainly does that.' Ryan and Chris are 36, with Matt just on 40 years of age. The Fisks grew up on Hobie Cats, in addition to being on their dad’s boat and cruising a bit offshore with him.
So Huey, we do all love you. Please come out to play for our revised schedule of events, with Race Six to go into sequence at 1055hrs tomorrow, Sunday. It’s our last day, and it would be wonderful to see all this talent go racing some more.
See http://www.etchells.org.au/gosford/states/ for all the information.